Games That Make Me Afraid of Growing Old and Dying: Animal Crossing
Posted on Tuesday, August 5 @ 13:00:00 Eastern by Paul_Tamburro
This right here is the very first paragraph of a very new series I am writing for this very website. It is a series about death or rather the process of death. It is a series about growing old and the games that remind me that life is a temporary thing and that the body I am trapped inside of is one which is slowly decaying, readying itself for its eventual, eternal resting place six feet under the ground.
It’ll be fun!
We are all fuelled by the knowledge that we will die someday. Even if you don’t believe that is the case and you claim that you can go a whole week without having a fleeting thought about being hit by a car or having a heart attack, you’re still essentially just trying to make the most out of whatever amount of time that you have left in you.
We all just want to enjoy ourselves, but given the unending pressure placed upon us during our everyday lives such as earning enough money to support ourselves, planning for retirement and even seemingly frivolous activities such as ensuring we don’t lose touch with our friends and family, we often need distractions. Video games are a distraction, but what happens when they don’t serve to distract us from our mortal coil but rather remind us that our time upon this planet is fleeting?
Animal Crossing is a series that has always presented itself as taking place in this cuddly, approachable universe in which your day-to-day encounters with drunks slumped against bus stops and men in suits talking too loudly into their mobile phones in subway stations are replaced by friendly alpacas who own furniture stores, enthusiastic, anthropomorphic pelicans working as postmen and other such adorableness. It’s a game that transports you to a world that ostensibly doesn’t feature any of the responsibilities and pressure you face here on Earth, but one which also echoes the real-life anxieties that come with being human.
There’s an inescapable loneliness to Animal Crossing that I think has always been mistaken for serenity. Sure, the series has an intrinsically peaceful quality to it, what with its dreamy island setting and abundance of perennially jolly neighbours, but it’s also oddly alienating. I think this is especially apparent in Animal Crossing: New Leaf, what with its out-of-town boat rides alongside the Kapp’n, with his penchant for singing sea shanties about lost love and the mayoral duties that are thrust upon you, which often simply lead to you filling your island with structures that serve only to improve its aesthetics.
I love the Animal Crossing series, but each game has always very much been a case of “look but don’t touch.” Yes, you can complete fulfilling tasks such as catching a particularly big fish or planting fruit you’ve picked from a faraway land, but the only real reward you can possibly receive from doing so is using the money you receive to purchase a bigger house, which can then be filled with more furniture that you can barely interact with. Despite its inherent warmth, it’s also quite hollow, which mirrors the relationships you form with your fellow villagers.
Animal Crossing makes you feel bad for neglecting your duties with it. Though your responsibilities within its world are minimal, it successfully conveys a sense of social duty to the player, instilling in you this idea that this is a real place that you can escape to, regardless of the fact that it’s occupied solely by talking animals. Putting it to the side for a week will ensure that once you boot it up once again, your neighbours will question why you haven’t spoken to them for so long and you’ll receive a flood of letters in your mailbox reminding you of what you have missed out on.
Picking the game up after seven months of absence from my village and I found that it had become overgrown with weeds. Chadder, one resident mouse, questioned how I had been occupying myself after spending so much time away from him and the rest of my neighbours. If there was an option to reply in Animal Crossing, I would’ve responded with “It’s not you, it’s me, Chadder.”
As is the case with every Animal Crossing game I have played, New Leaf was a wondrous experience for the first few months. Checking up on my village every day, performing a few menial tasks and conversing with my fellow villagers was a joy. But then, after a few months, it becomes a reminder of how time serves to erode your relationships. In reality, I am a good-natured soul with a relatively wide and varied circle of friends. However, as my friends and I grow older many of these relationships inevitably become strained, as we become detached from one another in order to pursue our own goals and live our own lives. Many I have consistently stayed in contact with, some I communicate with sporadically and others I have drifted apart from almost entirely. I think Animal Crossing, a game in which you live on a cuddly island with anthropomorphic critters, unintentionally conveys the losses you experience as you’re “growing up,” and replicates the sadness of replacing friendships with responsibilities.
Animal Crossing is a game that sees you making friends and spending what money you earn on items that grant superficial enjoyment, before you’re inevitably drawn away to join the “real world.” Animal Crossing is life.
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